Essay There has been a great deal of interest in the nature of poetic language. Brooks’ “The Language of Paradox” refers to an earlier prominent literary theorist and critic, Coleridge …reveals itself in the balance or reconcilement of opposite discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects, a more than usual state of emotion, with more than usual order…(Brooks 40) Poetic language reconciles opposites, according to Coleridge and this is a perfect example of paradox.
According to Cleanth Brooks, “paradox is the language appropriate and inevitable to poetry” (p. 1), as he explains it in his seminal essays on literary theory and criticism “The Language of Paradox” in his “Well Wrought Urn”. Paradox is used to present contradictions, irony and highlight the implications in a situation, relationship, themes, and so on. The poem “On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City” by Sherman Alexie is analyzed based on Cleanth Brooks’ notion of paradox in the language of poetry.
Sherman Alexie presents a Native American narrator in the poem. The title suggests that it is about an experience on board a train from Boston to New York City, but the poem goes deeper than that. The poem opens with a reference to a “white woman”. “The white woman across the aisle from me says, “Look, look at all the history, that house on the hill there is over two hundred years old, ” as she points out the window past me” (lines 1-4). On the surface level, this is just an account of what the white woman said, her curiosity about a particular old house and its historical significance.
However, the meaning of the old house is different for the two people, the white woman and the native American. This difference is brought out in the following lines when the narrator says that American history: “is 15,000 years older than the corners of the house that sits museumed on the hill” (lines 9-11). As Cleanth Brooks says, “the terms are continually modifying each other, and thus violating their dictionary meanings” (p. 9), the word “history” get modified by the words “sits museumed” to convey a fragmented meaning of history.
Unlike what the white woman believes, history dates back thousands of years, which is ignored or simply forgotten. So the phrase “all the history” by the white woman, when she refers to the house becomes meaningless or contradictory to the idea of the narrator.
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